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Decoding IP ratings

It's as easy as 1, 2, 3... 4, 5, 6... and sometimes 7 and 8.
By
May 25, 2022
The rubberized controls are easy to understand and navigate. While running, pressing the buttons is a thoughtless action. Pictured: The Plantronics BackBeat 500 FIT left ear cup with water droplets.

Whether you’re mid-cardio workout or get caught in a surprise rainstorm, broken earbuds are a big inconvenience. Ideally, your earbuds won’t be exposed to the elements, but year-round athletes and those who live in unpredictable climates know that you can’t always control these things. In that case, it’s best to invest in a pair of earbuds, headphones, or even speakers that can endure a light splash or fumble into the dirt. IP ratings are an easy way to identify the durability of your next device, and will give you some peace of mind when using it under sub-optimal conditions.

Editor’s note: this article was updated on May 25, 2022, to include a table of contents and an FAQ section.

What is an IP rating?

An Ingress Protection (IP) rating denotes how resistant a device is to dust and water, and “ingress” is just the act of going in or entering. The “X” serves as a placeholder for the degree of dust or water resistance in a given IP rating. Not all devices receive a rating that covers both variables, hence why many headphones and earbuds receive an IPX4 rating. In this case, the X means that the headset in question didn’t receive a dust-resistant rating, so best not to use it at the beach or when rock climbing. The “4” following the “X” is the liquid ingress protection rating.

Water-resistantWaterproofCan withstand
IPX0
Water-resistant

Waterproof

Can withstand
Not water-resistant
IPX1
Water-resistant

Waterproof

Can withstand
Dripping water (1 mm/min)
Limit: vertical drips only
IPX2
Water-resistant

Waterproof

Can withstand
Dripping water (3 mm/min)
Limit: Device max tilt of 15° from drips
IPX3
Water-resistant

Waterproof

Can withstand
Sprays
Limit: Device max tilt of 60° from sprays
IPX4
Water-resistant

Waterproof

Can withstand
Splashes, omnidirectional
IPX5
Water-resistant

Waterproof

Can withstand
Water jets (12.5 L/min)
Example: Squirt guns
IPX6
Water-resistant

Waterproof

Can withstand
Strong water jets (100 L/min)
Example: Powerful water guns
IPX7
Water-resistant

Waterproof

Can withstand
Complete submersion
Limit: 1 m. for 30 min
IPX8
Water-resistant

Waterproof

Can withstand
Complete submersion
Limit: 3 m. for 30 min

As we said, IP ratings are broken down into two categories: dust and water resistance. The former ranges from zero to six, while the latter goes up to 8. As you might expect, the lower the number, the less it’s able to combat the respective hazards.

Dust-resistantDustproofCan withstand...
IP0X
Dust-resistant

Dustproof

Can withstand...
Not dust-resistant
IP1X
Dust-resistant

Dustproof

Can withstand...
A solid object > 50 mm
IP2X
Dust-resistant

Dustproof

Can withstand...
A solid object > 12.5 mm
IP3X
Dust-resistant

Dustproof

Can withstand...
A solid object > 2.5 mm
IP4X
Dust-resistant

Dustproof

Can withstand...
A solid object > 1 mm
I5X
Dust-resistant

Dustproof

Can withstand...
Dust-protected, small solid objects won't interfere with device operation
IP6X
Dust-resistant

Dustproof

Can withstand...
Any amount of dust, completely dust-tight

Case Study 1: The Bose Sport Earbuds

The Bose Sport Earbuds true wireless workout earbuds sit outside of the closed charging case, all objects are covered in sprinkles of water to illustrate IPX4 rating.
The Bose Sport Earbuds boast an IPX4 water-resistance rating.

The Bose Sport Earbuds merit an IPX4 certification. Bose designed the earphones to be protected against splashes from any direction. The Bose Sport Earbuds, and any water-resistant headset with an IPX4 rating or higher, can handle even the sweatiest of us and be no worse for the wear. As a matter of fact, they’ll likely survive a clumsy spill from a water bottle too. That said, don’t go around thinking these are invincible. Full immersion will render them useless.

Case Study 2: The Jabra Elite Active 75t

A picture of the Jabra Elite Active 75t true wireless workout earbuds (navy) submerged in a Pyrex bowl of water.
You can submerge the Elite Active 75t true wireless workout earbuds for up to 30 minutes.

Jabra engineered the Jabra Elite Active 75t with durability in mind above all else. These earphones received one of the highest IP ratings at IP57, making them dust and water-resistant. If you’re a gymnast in training, beach runner, or rock climber, we recommend the Elite Active 75t. A dust-resistance rating of five indicates that these are protected from traces of dust, which can still permeate the headphones but won’t interfere with their ability to function. Regarding waterproofing, a rating of seven allows for complete immersion at one meter for up to 30 minutes.

Why you should care about IP ratings

You may not think your lifestyle warrants any kind of device-proofing, but accidents happen. Even the hydrophobic need to drink, leaving potential spills to chance. Nowadays, additional protection doesn’t necessitate additional cost. While the examples above are of top-tier earbuds, there are plenty of wireless earbuds under $100 and even under $50 with some degree of water resistance.

Poor spending habits aside, headphones that are rewarded with IP ratings will likely remain on your head longer than those lacking certification. If a pair of headphones receives an IP rating, you can rest easy knowing that a drop of water, spring deluge, or an unexpected poolside shove won’t short-circuit the internals. And as a backup, many warranties cover water-resistance failures. Worst-case scenario you jump through some bureaucratic hoops to justify a repair. Still, not too bad.

Frequently asked questions about the durability of earbuds and headphones

Jaybird Vista 2 earwings lined up on table.
The Jaybird Vista 2 comes with a bunch of ear wings, but they’re proprietary so you need to go to Jaybird for replacements.

If you’re looking for good running headphones, you’ll definitely want something with at least an IPX4 rating. But choosing between workout headphones and earbuds is up to personal preference. Most runners tend to choose earbuds because they’re durable and more ergonomic than headphones. Headphones have their place for exercise, and we have a whole list of the best workout headphones, but running requires a lot of jostling which can displace headphones in a way that doesn’t happen with earbuds.

If you want to go the less traditional route and fancy yourself an outdoor runner, we recommend bone conduction headphones, specifically the Shokz OpenRun or AfterShokz Aeropex. These are essentially the same headset but the former is rebranded, and you may have an easier time finding the latter at a discount.